May 29 - June 19, 2021
The Painter in the Town by the Sea
Self-taught artists, even in this day and age in which the creative path (paved by fine art schools, competitions, and exhibitions) is more or less set, are not unheard-of, but Jonathan Madeja is different. Born in Alad Island in the Province of Romblon, his destiny seemed to belong to the sea, just like his family composed mostly of fishermen. While he was already conversant in drawing and painting early on (his illustrations rendered with a ballpoint pen were immediately eye-catching), he took on odd jobs in construction and in electrical appliance sales to make ends
But the invitation of art was much louder than the call of the sea, and Madeja, after having participated in various group exhibitions and art residencies, finally comes to his own in his first solo exhibition, Banwa. From the Romblomanon word that translates into “town,” the show sets the stage for what the artist imagines as a continuing narrative of his life by the sea, redolent with his observations on the common folk, surroundings, and events that never reach the mainland.
In this suite of paintings, the predominant hue is blue, the color of watery depths and the night sky with the rise of a full moon, under which the fishermen cast their nets, hopeful for an abundant harvest. Whether depicted as an enveloping element or merely suggested by a series of waves, the sea is omnipresent, governing the lives of people whom Madeja has devotionally painted with care. They are actual inhabitants of the island, looking through naked eyes or through a pair of goggles used in order to withstand long, breathless dives into the sea.
While a few of the portraits appear straightforward, most of them contain surreal undertones, such as the cup held by a male figure (who resembles the artist) studded with thorns or a jester’s floating head through which a malevolent creature may be glimpsed. One dreamy painting shows a figure submerged under water and by the prow of an outrigger, aswarm with bird houses and eyes. It is a disconcerting underwater scene, which recalls the myths and legends connected to the moving mystery of the sea. Another work, which doesn’t have a human figure, may still be read as a portrait: the long-sleeved shirt hanging by a fish hook and signifying its wearer who has found temporary respite from the grueling labor of fishing.
For the artist, Banwa is microcosm of what’s happening in the Philippines. Majority of the working class are involved in agriculture and fishing, though they are underrepresented in art, the media, and in matters of government and policy. What the artist hopes to achieve is to shine a light on people like those he knew and interacted with from day-to-day in his island life, fully aware of their dreams, hopes, and desires. “What I also want to convey,” says the artist in the vernacular, “is that life by the sea is never easy and that there are still many stories behind it that most of us still don’t know.” Madeja vows to tell these stories, each exhibit like a chapter in a book, beginning with Banwa.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoan
Jonathan Madeja is a self-taught artist known for his meticulous illustrations of people and still lifes drawn with a ballpoint pen. Madeja hails from a family of fishermen in Alad Island, Romblon.
After graduating, he took on odd jobs from construction to selling electrical appliances. These experiences gave him a deep understanding of the working class who have become the frequent subjects of his canvases. Drawing made him feel alive and he was able to go through different challenging periods in his life because of his interest in art.
For his first solo show entitled “Banwa” (Town) he created this as a sequel of his graduate show during his residency last year called “Baktas” (Walk). Growing up on an island in Romblon, his everyday transit of crossing the sea to get to the town is where he grabs inspiration for his works. One of his aspirations is to create a sense of joy and inspiration in his audience. He hopes that his pieces can also be seen and appreciated by art collectors and most importantly, the people from his hometown.
Throughout his artistic practice, Madeja garnered recognitions from different art competitions in the country. He was a semifinalist for MADE 2017 and he secured a spot in the top 20 finalists for Manila Bulletin Sketch Fest for 2 consecutive years. Ever since he has taken on his art practice as a full-time profession, he has become a prolific artist, has exhibited his works often, and has succeeded to become a finalist in many art competitions in the country.